As I wrote about here, a major concern for many rural communities is the out-migration (or "brain-drain") of young people from their hometowns. The High Plains Journal reported this week on a presentation by Weldon Sleight, the dean of the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, on the college's philosophy of encouraging agricultural entrepreneurship - going "back to our base" in farm country - to revitalize rural areas. Also important, according to Sleight, is instilling a sense of community pride both in youth and adults. This includes supporting local, small businesses. "It kills me," he says, "when people drive 40 miles to go to Walmart when their local hardware store is about to close."
However, not everyone is convinced that focusing so much attention on getting young people to stay (or come back) is the best way to "bring new life" to small towns. Kathie Starkweather of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska told Radio Iowa this week that small towns would be better served to "let them go" and target, instead, Baby Boomers and senior citizens. Many people over 50, she says, are interested in starting small businesses and small towns offer what they want: "“The basic quiet, not having to be involved in the rat race but also being allowed to participate in the community.”
To change subjects a little bit, the Visalia (CA) Times-Delta ran a story about a University of California study examining tensions between six "semi-rural" cities in California and the neighboring farmers. The author detailed frustrations on both sides, such as farmers having equipment stolen and vandalized, and city dwellers being irritated by dust and noise. Perhaps not surprisingly, though, the "authors of the university report indicate that the chances for compatible relations between farmers and urbanites will mostly require farmers to adjust or revise their traditional practices."
Finally, NPR had an interesting report on Cuban agriculture that could serve as something of a cautionary tale. "After five decades of state-controlled agriculture," the story says, "the country struggles to feed itself, forcing the government to import some 70 percent of the island's food." When all of the farmland was nationalized with the rise of the communist regime, those who had farmed it walked away. Now, the government is trying to encourage food production by giving anyone willing to farm a free ten-year lease on federal land. Some of those taking advantage of the program are highly educated former employees of the government who are eager for entrepreneurial opportunities, however limited. As one new farmer says, "We can't all be intellectuals, because then there'd be nothing to eat."
Now that's food for thought.